All one needed to know about the impact Kyle Turris is having on the BCHL was in evidence when Nanaimo Clippers GM /coach Bill Bestwick was contacted and informed that McKeen's was doing a feature article on the burgeoning superstar.
"Kyle who?" asked Bestwick in a serious tone, though I knew it was a ruse, and laughed off his "ignorance".
He knew darn well which Kyle I was referring to? the Kyle that led his Burnaby junior club to the Royal Bank Cup championship last spring as a 16-year-old, scoring a hat-trick in the championship game; the Kyle that dominated November's World Junior A Challenge, garnering tournament MVP with 11 points in just four games; the Kyle that is bringing out NHL scouts and general managers in record numbers to see the most highly touted tier II junior draft eligible prospect in NHL history.
Turris' coach Rick Lanz, a longtime NHL defenceman, thinks Turris is as talented as any player to come through the BCHL in the dozen years he's been coaching in the league.
"Pound-for-pound the talent level of Kyle is something that comes along only once in awhile" said Lanz. "I had Scott Gomez in Surrey, and Kyle is equally or potentially better in terms of skill set. I would definitely group him in with Kariya, Gomez and such. I think Kyle is in a slightly different bracket with those guys?he's got that extra ability to see the game, dish pucks under duress. There is zero panic in his game, and those are all special attributes."
Lanz has been hearing whispers that Turris could go in the top five.
"I've talked to officials of NHL teams that will be drafting near the top, and I wouldn't be surprised if ultimately in the end he may end up going first overall."
He may not be far off. McKeen's has Turris ranked second overall in its February rankings, and NHL scouts aren't dismissing him being a top five pick in the 2007 NHL draft.
"He's got everything, he's just a little weak," said one western conference scout. "The guy's a projection, but he has tremendous upside. I think he has the most upside of any player in the draft. He's a pretty talented kid."
"Clearly he's a remarkable talent," noted Bestwick, who has guided his Clippers to the BCHL's best record this season. "A top-end performer with a flair and ability to change the dynamic of a game. The kid's a superstar at our level."
Bestwick is overwhelmed that a player in the league he has been involved with "for the past 30 years" would be a consideration for a top three selection in the NHL draft.
"It's such an honour," said Bestwick.
"Those are such lofty heights for a player from this league. Oh my goodness, what an honour?we're all thrilled for him. He's such a nice young man. Such a terrific citizen and kid. He's a wonderful ambassador for our league."
Bestwick is not alone in bestowing accolades on Turris' character.
"You have to have a certain level of maturity to take on the responsibility to be a player of his caliber, and he matches that criterion," said his coach. "He's a young kid that gets it; he's very respectful of the game."
Turris was by no means a late bloomer in the athletic world, enrolled in lacrosse by four years of age and hockey by five.
"Well, he's an only child, and I was dying to have someone to play with," joked his father Bruce, a consultant to the commercial fishing industry and a distinguished lacrosse player that did the opposite of Kyle; stopped playing hockey at 15 to pursue lacrosse. Kyle's mother Vikky was a star athlete herself, excelling in short distance track in high school.
"They've both been tremendous influences," said Turris, who added that he's had quality coaching throughout his minor hockey career.
A lifelong resident of New Westminster, not surprisingly he grew up a Canucks fan, and still is today.
"I have a Canucks border all around the top of my room," admitted Turris, whose all-time favourite player is Steve Yzerman. "I was pretty sad when he retired."
His father spent 15 years in the Western Lacrosse Association with Vancouver and Coquitlam, and is a member of the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
Bruce was a high-scoring center known for his faceoff prowess, something his son admits is one of his shortcomings. "I definitely need to add some strength and improve on my faceoffs."
Turris has been working hard towards both goals. In the past 13 months he has gained 17 pounds and now tips the scales at 170 pounds. He was measured twice by Central Scouting recently and soon discovered that he's taller in the morning. "I was 6-1 in the morning and 6-0 ?" that night," he said with a laugh.
Turris will be working out once again in the offseason with Shaun Karp, a certified personal trainer who has worked with several NHLers, including Brendan Morrison.
Lanz concurs that Turris needs to add some weight to his frame, and that he fully expects Turris to do just that over the next couple of years given his tremendous work ethic. Not that Turris is a magnet for the league's big hitters "He's very elusive; he's very rarely hit. He uses his peripheral vision so well."
Chose the college route
Turris first started thinking about hockey seriously when he was finishing bantam hockey. "Things started to come together; colleges started talking to me; it was really cool."
Fate struck its hand early the next season when Turris decided to play junior B hockey as a 15-year-old, only to break his wrist on the first shift of his first game, with NCAA recruiters there to scout him.
He was going to be sidelined for a couple of months, so his advisor suggested that he would have an opportunity to check out some US schools, and the Turrises went to Minnesota and Wisconsin to see games and visit the campuses.
"Kyle said he'd love to see an NCAA game, so we decided to make a trip," said Bruce. "Kyle realized it was quality hockey, and he was very impressed by the facilities, and met with the coaches."
Essentially it came down to a choice between Minnesota or Wisconsin, and the Badgers were showing the most interest. He committed verbally to playing for Wisconsin early in 2005, much to the chagrin of the Vancouver Giants, who made a heavy pitch to Turris this past summer, setting up a meeting with the family right after he returned from the Under 18's.
Not that the Giants could be blamed for trying; Vancouver won the WHL championship in 2005-06 and promised to have another strong team this season which will be hosting the Memorial Cup with 13 returning players.
Turris admitted that it was a tough decision to make seeing that he would have a chance to play for the Memorial Cup in his hometown, but he still thinks pursuing a higher education is the proper choice.
"It gives me the extra years to develop if I need them, and if it doesn't work out with hockey I'll have an education if I need it." He'll be taking business courses his freshman year and decide from there which major he wants to pursue.
For now though, Turris' goal is to win another BCHL title, and after a horrible start to the season the Express are starting to find their game, climbing from the bottom of their division to fourth place in the past two months.
Still; the Express are in tough to attain the lofty heights they reached last season. Mind you, Turris has a nice consolation prize if his junior team gets eliminated before the BCHL finals - "I've been told to be ready to go to the Under 18's (In Finland April 11-22) if we get beat out."
Turris sits in third place in BCHL scoring with 56 goals and 99 points in 45 games, including 24 points in his past ten contests. Last season, Turris posted 36 goals and 72 points in 57 games in helping Burnaby win the RBC Royal Bank Cup in Yorkton, Sask., where he led all tournament scorers with seven goals and 13 points in six games, including a spectacular four-goal performance in versus Russia with plenty of scouts on hand.
He was also the only college-bound member of Canada's gold medal winning team at the Under-18 Junior World Cup this past summer at the tender age of 16.
"It was cool to play with all those great players," noted Turris. "It was my first time going overseas. It was great to witness the cultural differences."
So what's a young hockey star do off the ice to pass the time?
"Working out, watching football," said Turris, who lives with his parents just a few miles from the Burnaby arena. "I've got my best friends on the team; they're great, going out to movies and stuff."
He's a big New England Patriots fan, but with the move coming to Wisconsin next fall, he may find himself cheering for the Packers.
"Yeah..that might happen?.I'll be a cheesehead."
The larger local media outlets are starting to take notice. He was featured on CBC and Global TV recently and The Province has run a number of articles.
Is the celebrity getting to him?
"We haven't noticed a change in his attitude yet," said his father. "I think he's a fairly modest young